The 10 most important players on each AFC West team

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Friday June 9th, 2017

A quality quarterback can carry a team a long way in the NFL, but teams carry 53 players for a reason—QBs can’t do it alone. So, with the draft and the heart of free agency in the rearview mirror, we’re asking the question: Who are the 10 most important non-quarterbacks on each roster?

We polled writers from SI and The MMQB to find some answers. Each writer was assigned to a conference and asked to rank each roster’s most important players, 1 through 10. Those players then were given points consistent with their positioning—a first-place vote was worth 10 points, second-place was worth nine and so on. Then we circled back to hear the writers out when their ballots went against the grain.

Next up is the AFC West, with the following pollsters: Ben Baskin, Chris Burke, Robert Klemko, Bette Marston, Eric Single.

The 10 most important players on the Denver Broncos

1. LB Von Miller (40 points)
2. WR Demaryius Thomas (38)
3. CB Chris Harris (30)
4. CB Aqib Talib (20)
T-5. LB Shane Ray (16)
T-5. S T.J. Ward (16)
7. WR Emmanuel Sanders (14)
8. LB Brandon Marshall (13)
9. OT Garett Bolles (12)
10. OT Donald Stephenson (10)

A full two dozen Broncos received votes, from Von Miller’s 40 points (four first-place votes) on down through 10th-place nod for Todd Davis, Shaq Barrett and Darian Stewart. The closest teammate to Miller was Demaryius Thomas, who didn’t even place as high as second on any ballot—he ranked No. 4 thrice and No. 3 twice.

Emmanuel Sanders had a difficult time finding votes. He did pull in a third-place finish (Marston) but was no higher than eighth elsewhere. And rookie OT Garett Bolles cracked just two ballots (Baskin and Burke), both at the No. 5 slot.

Chris Burke defends his fifth-place vote for Garett Bolles: The Broncos are going to make Bolles earn his starting job, but they didn’t spend a first-round pick to bury him on the bench—not after they struggled so badly in 2016 to generate consistent blocking. Bolles will play a huge role this season.

Other Broncos receiving votes: DE Jared Crick, RB C.J. Anderson, OT Menelik Watson (nine points); G Ronald Leary, DE Derek Wolfe (eight); CB Bradley Roby (six); S Justin Simmons (five); DT Domata Peko (four); TE Virgil Green (three); OT Matt Paradis (two); LB Todd Davis, LB Shaq Barrett, S Darian Stewart (one)

The 10 most important players on the Kansas City Chiefs

1. LB Justin Houston (36 points)
2. S Eric Berry (34)
3. CB Marcus Peters (29)
4. TE Travis Kelce (25)
5. DT Tamba Hali (24)
T-6. LB Derrick Johnson (21)
T-6. OT Eric Fisher (21)
8. RB Spencer Ware (16)
9. WR Jeremy Maclin (14)
9. WR Tyreek Hill (12)
10. DE Dee Ford (10)

Our writer ballots came in before the Chiefs’ surprising release of Jeremy Maclin, and he had claimed enough votes to rank in the top 10. Also there were Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, two players whose roles now become even more vital in Kansas City. Hill’s highest finish in the voting was seventh (Klemko and Marston), while Kelce claimed a pair of fourth-place votes (Baskin and Single).

Eric Berry claimed the most first-place votes, with two (Marston and Single). Justin Houston (Baskin), Derrick Johnson (Burke) and Dee Ford (Klemko) each nabbed one.

Bette Marston defends her first-place vote for Eric Berry: Just look at Berry’s 2016 stats. He recorded 62 tackles and snagged four interceptions, returning them for 98 total yards—tied for sixth in the league—and two touchdowns. Berry is the face of the Kansas City secondary, and his veteran presence cannot be overrated.​

Other Chiefs receiving votes: WR Chris Conley, DE Chris Jones (eight points); DT Bennie Logan, OT Mitchell Schwartz (seven); CB Steven Nelson, LB Ramik Wilson, S Daniel Sorensen (one)

The 10 most important players on the Los Angeles Chargers

1. RB Melvin Gordon (40 points)
2. DE Joey Bosa (39)
3. OT Russell Okung (37)
4. WR Keenan Allen (32)
5. DE Melvin Ingram (26)
6. CB Jason Verrett (23)
7. WR Mike Williams (13)
8. CB Casey Hayward (11)
9. TE Antonio Gates (nine)
10. LB Denzel Perryman (eight)

Is this an upset? Bosa was dominant last season en route to Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, but Gordon’s turnaround from 2015 to ’16 did not go unnoticed—he ranked as high as No. 2 on a pair of boards, and in the top five on all. Bosa nabbed three first-place votes (Baskin, Burke, Single).

Two first-place votes left after that. One went to Jason Verrett (Klemko), the other to Keenan Allen (Marston). Allen finished 19 points ahead of ballyhooed rookie receiver Mike Williams, who climbed into a No. 3 spot (Baskin) but also fell off two ballots.

Chris Burke defends his second-place vote for Melvin Gordon: This boils down to the omnipresent issue with the Chargers for years: Philip Rivers cannot do it alone. Gordon bounced back with a solid 2016, and he needs to be a 1,000-plus-yard back for this offense to hum.​

Other Chargers receiving votes: S Dwight Lowery, OT Joe Barksdale (seven); G Kenny Wiggins (six); C Spencer Pulley (five); LB Jatavis Brown, LB Kyle Emanuel (four); TE Hunter Henry (two); OL Forrest Lamp (one)

The 10 most important players on the Oakland Raiders

1. DE Khalil Mack (40)
2. WR Amari Cooper (35)
3. OT Donald Penn (32)
4. CB Gareon Conley (24)
5. RB Marshawn Lynch (19)
6. G Kelechi Osemele (15)
7. C Rodney Hudson (13)
8. G Gabe Jackson (11)
T-9. DE Mario Edwards (10)
T-9. OT Marshall Newhouse (10)

The highest ranking for any rookie in the AFC West belonged to Gareon Conley, with his 24 points here. Conley scored a No. 2 (Klemko), No. 3 (Burke) and No. 4 spot (Baskin), although he fell off the other two ballots.

Mack captured four of a possible five first-place votes. Offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse carried the fifth (Klemko), which was enough to move him into the Raiders’ top 10. Falling just shy were a trio of important defenders: Reggie Nelson, Bruce Irvin and Karl Joseph. Both Nelson (Marston) and Irvin (Burke) did have one fifth-place vote each, but that was not enough to offset Newhouse’s 10-pointer.​

Eric Single defends his fourth-place vote for OT Austin Howard: Howard was in part a placeholder vote for whoever wins the starting right tackle job (reported summer front-runner Marshall Newhouse, like Howard, is no safe bet to last 16 games). Either way, Derek Carr’s injury overshadowed the debilitating impact left tackle Donald Penn’s late-season injury had on the Raiders’ line, and as long as Howard remains on the roster, he will be a pivot point for Oakland’s offensive flexibility.

Other Raiders receiving votes: S Reggie Nelson (eighth); LB Bruce Irvin, S Karl Joseph, OT Austin Howard, WR Cordarrelle Patterson (seven); DE Denico Autry (six); WR Michael Crabtree, S Sean Smith, TE Jared Cook, LB Cory James (five); RB Latavius Murray (three); S T.J. Carrie (one)

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